Used as a term of abuse in the eighteenth century, the word implied the rapturous self-delusion of people who believed themselves to be under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Convinced that they had received a direct revelation from God, contrary arguments from reason or even morality were rejected. In its early years, allegations that Methodism's 'wild and pernicious enthusiasm' undermined 'the bases of true religion' seemed to be substantiated by cases of uncontrollable weeping or fainting. Extempore prayer and the preaching of Christian perfection and assurance were all dismissed as 'enthusiasm'. John Wesley replied that the test of these and other purported gifts of the Spirit was in their fruits, such as love, joy and peace. When Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, told him in 1739, 'Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing,' Wesley replied, 'I pretend to no extraordinary revelations or gifts of the Holy Ghost: none but what every Christian may receive and ought to expect and pray for.' He referred to 'that many-headed monster, Enthusiasm' and defined it as 'looking for the end without using the means'.

  • L. Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley (1878) 1 p.246
  • A.W. Harrison, 'Why the 18th Century Dreaded Methodist Enthusiasm', in WHS Proceedings, 18 pp.40-42
  • Umphrey Lee, The Historical Backgrounds of Early Methodist Enthusiasm (New York, 1931)
  • Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm (Oxford, 1950)
  • J. Clifford Hindley, 'The Philosophy of Enthusiasm', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review', April 1957 pp.99-109, July 1957 pp.199-210
  • B. Semmell, The Methodist Revolution (1974) pp.13-17
  • H.D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (1989) pp.275-8
  • M.J. Kurschner, 'The Enthusiasm of the Rev. John Wesley', in Wesleyan Theological Journal, 35:2 (Fall 2000), pp.114-37

Entry written by: MB
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